I debated for a while as to whether I should actually publish this post or not...I just wasn't entirely happy with the appearance of the tarts, I couldn't help but feel that the pears turned out looking somewhat slug-like...In the end though taste won out. What they lack in looks they make up for in flavour. Sweet pears poached in a spiced red wine syrup are baked with rich chocolate frangipane in a crisp chocolate pastry crust. When topped with a dollop of ice cream and an extra drizzle of spiced red wine syrup they are heavenly.
You can eliminate the slug-like appearance by cutting the pears into thin slices lengthwise, leaving about a centimeter at the stalk end attached, and fanning them out (which is, in hindsight, exactly what I should have done...). Make sure that your pears are ripe, but not soft; It doesn't matter too much which variety you use, I used conference, but williams would also be good. It is best to poach the pears the day before you want to bake the tarts, as the longer they have to sit in the syrup the more flavour and colour they will take on. This also splits up the workload a bit; and you can even make the pastry and blind bake the tart cases the day beforehand as well, just put them in an airtight container once they have cooled.
As the pastry is made with cocoa powder to give it a chocolatey flavour, it can be a little more delicate and prone to breaking when rolled out than regular pastry, so make sure that you chill it well before rolling; I didn't have any problems with mine breaking though. You will need four 10cm/4in tart tins, I used the smooth-rimmed, fairly deep ones, I would usually recommend using loose-bottomed ones, but mine weren't and I had no issue turning the tarts out. I really do recommend taking the extra step of reducing the spiced red wine poaching liquid down to a syrup as it is absolutely delicious and it would be a shame to waste the poaching liquid. You may end up with a little leftover syrup after serving the tarts, in which case I urge you to try it on pancakes or with fruit and yoghurt - yum!
Red Wine Poached Pear & Chocolate Frangipane Tarts
Red Wine Poached Pears
- 2 medium/large pears ripe but firm
- 250 ml (1 cup) red wine
- 150 ml (⅔ cup) water
- 150 g (¾ cup) sugar
- 1 star anise
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 125 g (1 cup) plain flour
- 25 g (scant ¼ cup) cocoa powder
- 30 g (⅓ cup) icing (powdered) sugar
- ¼ tsp salt
- 100 g (1 stick) cold butter, cubed
- 1 egg yolk
- 2-5 tbsp ice cold water
- 85 g (⅓ cup) softened butter
- 100 g (½ cup) caster (superfine) sugar
- 85 g (⅔ cup) ground almonds
- 40 g (⅓ cup) cocoa powder
- 2 medium eggs
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
To make the poached pears
- Poach the pears the day before you want to bake the tarts: Place the wine, water, sugar, cinnamon and star anise in a saucepan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved.
- Meanwhile, peel, core and halve the pears. Add them to the pan and bring it up to a gentle simmer. Cook, turning occasionally, for about 20 minutes until tender. If you stab one with a fork it should fall off.
- Leave to cool in the syrup then refrigerate (in the syrup) overnight.
To make the pastry
- Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, sugar and salt. Add the butter and rub it in with your fingertips until it resembles fine breadcrumbs (or pulse in a food processor). Mix in the egg yolk and enough ice water to bring it together into a disc. Wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
- Divide the pastry into 4 pieces. Roll each piece out into a circle large enough to line a 10cm (4 in) tart tin. Line your tins, pressing the pastry right into the corners. I prefer to not trim off the excess pastry at this point as I find that it helps to stop the tart shell from shrinking when it is baked, I simply fold it over the rim.
- Place the lined tart tins in the freezer for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.
- Line each of the frozen tart shells with greaseproof paper or tin foil and fill with baking beans, making sure that the edges are shored up. Bake for 20 minutes then remove the beans and lining and return to the oven for a further 5-10 minutes until crisp. Set aside to cool for 10 minutes then use a very sharp serrated knife to trim off the excess pastry.
To make the frangipane
- Beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Mix together the ground almonds and cocoa powder and mix them into the butter gradually, alternating with the eggs. Mix in the vanilla extract.
- Divide the frangipane between the cooled tart cases. Drain the pears, reserving the poaching liquid. Top each tart with a pear half; you can either leave them as they are or cut each one into thin slices and fan them out.
- Bake the tarts for 20-25 minutes (at the same oven temperature) until the frangipane has risen and set.
- While the tarts are baking, return the poaching liquid to a saucepan, bring up to the boil and simmer until it has reduced to a thick syrup.
- Leave the baked tarts to cool in their tins for 5-10 minutes then turn them out and brush each of the pears with some of the red wine syrup to make them shiny.
- Serve warm or at room temperature sprinkled with icing sugar and topped with a scoop of ice cream and a drizzle of the red wine syrup.